Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Vol. IV, No. 36 October 10 - 16, 2004 Quezon City, Philippines
There Life after the Riles*?
SUICIDAL: Eric Manalaysay, 25, a month after his attempted suicide.
JOSE DEL MONTE, Bulacan – Twenty-five year old Eric Manalaysay’s
troubles began March 2003 when his family’s house in Barangay 80, 10th
Avenue, Sangandaan along Caloocan City’s railway was demolished.
Eighteen months later - on Sept. 3 – without a job and depressed, Eric
drank gin - a poor man’s hard liquor - and gulped down 37 tablets of
ferrous sulfate thinking that an overdose would finish him off. Then he
slashed his left wrist.
at what her son did, Nene brought Eric to a public hospital, about 45
minutes away from their home in Towerville in this remote rural town north
of Manila. But despite his critical condition, Eric was denied emergency
treatment because his 47-year-old mother could not give any down payment.
rushed back home, took some pieces of property as collateral for loan from
neighbors. They too were penniless. Fortunately, a friend in a nearby
village lent her some money just enough to save her son’s life.
to this writer last week, Eric said he never imagined himself taking his
own life. He thought he was making “good” when his family lived in a
slum community along Caloocan City’s railways, some 35 kilometers away.
As a cable technician in a telecommunications company in Makati, he
was earning P380 a day plus food allowance and overtime pay.
had just gotten married to Jenny, 20, in March 2003 when a demolition team
came to their community. Eric and his family just stared helplessly as the
demolition crew wrecked their house and those of 148 other families. Then
they were told to board six-by-six trucks that brought them to the
Towerville Resettlement Project Phase 4 in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan,
about 35 kms away.
lang kaming mga hayop na tinapon dito” (We’re just like animals
dumped here), he said. He had to stop reporting for work in Makati, which
is about 50 kms from the relocation site, to put up a temporary shelter
and begin rebuilding their lives at Towerville.
first, Eric’s family and the other refugees were only given tents for
shelter and P1,000 food allowance. There was no electricity and water was
months later, Eric went back to his company office in Makati. He was
shooed away. Dejection turned to distress when he found no job near
Towerville. Jenny decided to work as entertainer in Japan. As for Eric he
began working as a macho dancer at a small club in nearby Novaliches.
home after only six months, Jenny got herself pregnant. She suffered a
miscarriage two months later. That seemed like the final straw for the
young lass. She left home and
Eric found himself alone. It was at this point that Eric slashed his
(Left) BEFORE: Aling Nene during happier days sometime last year along the railways of Caloocan. (Right) AFTER: Aling Nene and child, one-and-a-half years after resettlement in Towerville.
happened to Eric is just one of extreme cases that befell many of the
refugees of Towerville. The Phase 4 settlers came all the way from
Sangandaan. Among those spoken to by Bulatlat, their common plaint
is that their lives have turned from bad to worse since they were brought
the total households relocated in Phase 4 only 70 families remain.
Towerville Phase 4 was opened to pave the way for the first phase of the
Northrail rehabilitation project that will run 32 kms from Caloocan to
Malolos, Bulacan. The new railway will be extended to Clark in Pampanga
all the way to San Fernando, La Union in northern Philippines.
September, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo brokered a $500 million loan
from the Chinese government to fund the project now collectively known as
the Manila-Clark Rapid Railway System (Northrail) Project of the
state-owned North Luzon Railways Corporation (NLRC).
Phase 4 is a 35.5-hectare property owned and developed by the Goldenville
Realty and Development Corporation (GRDC). The Memorandum of Agreement (MoA)
signed by GRDC’s president and general manager Ida Abendaño-Guinto,
states that the property was acquired by the government’s National
Housing Authority’s (NHA) land acquisition for the informal dwellers
along the railroad tracks affected by the construction of the Northrail.
Ortiz Abuyog, president of Towerville Homeowners Association, said that
half of the 149 families who were resettled here last year have gone back
to Manila. Some even sold
their rights to their lots just so they could have money and desert the
place, he added.
ang buhay namin dito, ibang-iba sa buhay namin sa riles” (Life is
hard here compared to what we had along the railways), Mang Ronnie tells Bulatlat.
what seemed like the rites before a religious sacrifice in March last
year, the railway dwellers in 10th Avenue were told to assemble
for a dialogue with housing czar Mike Defensor and city officials. Mang
Ronnie recalls that Defensor, who is now environment secretary, promised
them lots complete with a school, medical center, market and other
last week by Bulatlat, Teresita T. Valderrama, OIC of the NHA’s
Resettlement and Development Services Department (RDSD) based in Quezon
City, said the resettled families were given a minimum of 50-sq. m. lots
worth P2,540 per sq. m., housing materials worth P40,000 and P10,000 for
labor fees. She showed NHA
records attesting that 132 families availed of the P50,000 worth of loan.
Mang Ronnie, who got a 91-sq. m. corner lot, said the materials were not
even enough to build a decent house for their families.
The materials consisted mainly of a few hallow blocks for walls and
a few pieces of galvanized iron and wood for roofing.
of this is that like most houses in Towerville, Mang Ronnie’s house has
soil and gravel for flooring. Most houses have only cracked pieces of
plywood for doors and windows; at least one unit has no roof (please see
to government press releases, relocation is not free. For the first three
years at Towerville, for example, each family is expected to pay about
P300 per month, increasing to P350 a month after that. Loans should be
paid in 30 years.
silang binigay, wala kaming hiningi.
Lahat ito ay utang” (They gave nothing, we asked for nothing.
All of these are loans), said Mang Ronnie.
appears to be no guarantee of ownership either. To set foot on Towerville,
each resettlement awardee was given an entry pass. The pass says: “This
entry pass is only a permit to enter the aforesaid resettlement project
and does not constitute automatic award of the residential lot.”
kaming kasiguraduhan dito” (We have no assurance here), Mang Ronnie
Valderrama however explained that, historically, there is no NHA awardee
evicted from any government resettlement area. In fact, she added, some
residents have availed of “amnesty” from payment from the government.
the former Caloocan dwellers were promised a grace period of three years
before they start paying, they began receiving last January – or less
than a year following their relocation - an Individual Notice of Award
(INA) stating they have to start paying their monthly amortization.
Those who were unable to pay were not given water connections.
families could not pay the amortization since whatever income they earn is
only good for food. “Uunahin pa ba namin ang pagbabayad sa lupa?
Syempre kung may pera kami, bibili muna kami ng pagkain” (Given a
choice between paying and being able to eat, we would choose food), Mang
of water connections, residents fetch water from the community faucet that
they call “tawid uhaw” (thirst quencher). But the faucet is only open from 6-10
a.m. and 4-9 p.m. Depending on the size of their container, they pay from
P0.50 to P2.50 each time they queue up for water. And all these for water
that is not even potable. “Malabo ang tubig,” Mang Ronnie said.
To save on water expenses, residents do their laundry and take a bath in a nearby stream.
Barefooted Aling Nelia holding her one-year-old child who survived dengue
also said the NHA is paying for electrical connection which cost P1, 200
for each household. She has to eat her own words: Most Towerville settlers
have been literally living in the dark since their transfer. All
residents, Mang Ronnie said, have applied for Meralco electricity lines
but no lines have been put up except for one house which is nearest to the
electricity, they could not for instance sleep at night as they cannot use
their electric fans to drive away mosquitoes swarming the area. Barefooted
Nelia Aporillo, 34, said about 20 of her neighbors have been afflicted
with dengue, a lethal ailment caused by mosquito bites. One of the victims
- her own one-year-old child – fortunately survived.
when they were in Caloocan, Towerville’s new settlers face the daily
anxiety of where to get money for the rising expenses. The nearest market
is about 8 kms and just going there and back home would cost P46.
Schoolchildren need up to P50 in going to school, a distance of about 4
kms. Many schoolchidren have simply dropped out of school.
biggest problem is of course finding a job. Back in Caloocan, looking for
odd jobs was not a problem: one could work as a vendor, porter,
laundrywoman, jeepney or tricycle driver or factory worker. Today, a
number of Towerville residents have tried keeping their odd jobs along
Caloocan’s railways. Going back and forth has been tough, though:
transport fare alone is P90 and travel time chalks up five hours.
Avila, 28, had lived along the railways for nearly 20 years. As a
messenger for a telecommunications company in Makati, he was paid P280 a
tried keeping his job when he and his family were relocated in Towerville
last year. But he had to give it up last January after realizing that
commuting and food allowance ate up most of his earnings and whatever was
left in his pocket was barely enough for the daily household expenses. He
lives with his wife and a one-year old boy.
lang ako” (I just got tired), he said.
said residents were entitled to a P25,000 loan for livelihood assistance
which is also payable in 30 years with no interest. Good if this were
true, Johnny said, but until last month he had yet to receive a loan he
had applied for last year. To make ends meet, the Avila couple sometimes
depend on dole outs from relatives living in Manila.
Johnny, the government’s help may make a difference but those who have
received their livelihood assistance say it is not good enough.
Raz, 34, got her livelihood assistance in April.
She and her husband, Norlindo, 34, used the loan to start a sari-sari
(or variety) store. The store occupied half of their 50-sq. m. house with
the front window serving as the counter.
a mother of two, said her family makes do from the earnings of the store.
But just the same she is worried because her neighbors have been buying
her groceries on credit. “Syempre, kung wala silang makain
papautangin ko. Pero saan kaya sila kukuha ng pambayad, e wala rin silang
trabaho?” (Of course, if they have nothing to eat they get my
foodstuffs and promise to pay later. But how can they pay when they have
no work in the first place?), she asked.
Ronnie offers a suggestion: “Sana
bago nila kami inilipat dito, nagtayo muna ng factory malapit sa amin para
may ikabubuhay naman kami.” (Authorities should have put up first a
factory near here where we could work before they brought us to this
Valderrama admits that the government relocation plans do not offer viable livelihood projects. “That’s why as much as possible,” she said, “what we really want is in-city relocation so the urban poor dwellers will at least not lose their jobs.”
of work in or near Towerville makes the impact of dislocation harder for
the urban poor dwellers. As a result, Valderrama said, some of those relocated in
nearby provinces go back to their former abode in the cities. And most
likely as informal dwellers once more. Bulatlat
Photos by Dabet Castañeda
* Riles is the Filipino term for railway
PHOTO ESSAY: Towerville